Tapping Into Our Creative Potential | September 19, 2014

Tapping Into Our Creative Potential

When my youngest child was five or six, we kept finding things in her room that we had put into the trash or recycling bin: wrappers, empty cereal boxes, used straws, empty cans, bottle caps. For us, these were throwaway items, and we could not figure out how they kept piling up in her room, so we asked her. Her answer was that she was "making things." You see, when she looked in our recycling bin, she did not see junk. She saw color and textures. What we saw as trash, she saw as treasures to be made into art forms.

As we age, we lose our ability to look at the world in new and imaginative ways. We become socialized and locked into certain ways of thinking and seeing the world. This imprisoning effect begins to happen to us as early as 10 months. As babies, when we learn to distinguish sounds of our native language from other languages, we become culture-bound listeners.

Researcher Patricia Kuhl found that babies under eight months can detect sounds in any language from anywhere in the world. Babies this young are, in her words, "citizens of the world" because they can distinguish all the sounds of all languages. However, only a few months later, babies begin to lose their ability to distinguish sounds not in the language that is commonly spoken to them. In this way, their perception of the world is already narrowing. At less than a year old, a baby's sensory perception is already in the process of being constrained by language and culture.

Studies have shown that students who have lived in a foreign country and adapted to that culture are more able to engage in creative problem solving than students who have not tried to adjust to a different culture. Adjusting to a new place makes people more open to new models and creative solutions.

With this in mind, I want you to approach this year seeing how many different cultures you can participate in. I am not asking you to go abroad — even though going abroad can be a transformational experience. I am asking you to do this right here at Morristown-Beard School, so that you can protect and even more fully develop your creative potential.

Researcher Robert McGarvey notes that 84% of kindergarteners rank high in creativity. Yet, by second grade, only 10% of second graders rank high in creativity. This statistic suggests that schooling and growing up tends to have a negative impact on our ability to imagine and create, to innovate and design.

At MBS, we very much value your ability to use your imagination. Imagination is important because your ability to come up with creative alternatives will help you in all contexts throughout your life. Imaginative thinking is not simply whimsical; it is a higher order cognitive process because it combines logic and creativity. So stretch your imagination by stepping into different worlds and crossing barriers. Cultural barriers are not only walls that separate countries; they are also fences that separate people of the same nationality who have different habits, different friends, different attitudes, different backgrounds and behavior. See how many different cultures you can transcend. If you are playing a sport this fall, see if you can find the time to watch a theater rehearsal. If you are in the fall play, stop by to see the end of a game. Work to enter worlds that you do not normally inhabit.

The best schools teach the ability to understand that there is more than one way to see the world. They help us to understand the complexities of our world and to embrace a multiplicity of perspectives. This understanding will help us be innovative and empathic citizens of the world, and at MBS we deeply value these qualities.

I myself embraced a new culture when I began taking yoga at my fitness club. For me as a novice, this type of exercise was uncomfortable and awkward; I didn't know the poses, and it didn't seem to do anything for me. In the culture of yoga "harder, better, stronger, faster" does not hold up, and I was not used to this new way of perceiving exercise. The point of yoga is not to look ahead and make goals. It is to be present in the moment and to breathe. In yoga, there is no "perfect" way of doing a pose. You just do it the best you can, and everyone's pose might look different.

Often in class, the instructor will teach us a series of 12-15 poses, and then she will say "Continue on your own. I am not here to lead you on a leash. Find out what movement your body needs and do it." At first, I found this daunting because I could not always remember the exact sequence of movements, and I wanted the instructor to keep telling me what to do. But after a while, I realized that the point was not for me to remember the exact series as she had narrated it, but to create my own version of what she offered. It took me a while to get used to this new way of exercising and to this new culture, but this experience has helped me to discover a new part of myself, and an added bonus is that I have many new yoga friends.

At MBS, we want you to learn to engage in problem solving and independent thinking. We want you to take intellectual risks and make cross-disciplinary connections. We urge you to try new things, to discover new talents, and to see yourselves in new ways.

Just as my instructor cannot lead me on a leash to "master" yoga, your teachers cannot lead you on a leash to enlightenment. Each of you is responsible for figuring out who you are to become. Get to know yourself and how you learn and what your passions are. Have the confidence to explore, invent, question. This is a place of possibility, but know that we cannot give you an education. You have to seize it.


Bain, Ken. What the Best College Students Do. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 2012

Kuhl, Patricia. "The Linguistic Genius of Babies." TED. July 2013. Lecture

Robert McGarvey "Creative Thinking" USAIR, June 1990, p. 36

Daft Punk. "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." Alive 2007. Virgin. October 2007.


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